They start by discussing Ullman’s book The Homeopathic Revolution. So far as I can tell from the interview, it is an account of famous and historical figures who have used homeopathy. Nothing wrong with this, of course, but I do hope his research was better than that of those homeopaths who falsely claim that Charles Darwin used homeopathy and that Louis Pasteur renounced the germ theory of disease on his death bed.
Unfortunately, he betrays his weak grasp of logical thinking with the following:-
“I also admit to experiencing a fair amount of magic on a regular basis. What I mean is that whenever I would start working on a chapter on politicians or peacemakers, corporate leaders or philanthropists, I would actively seek, read books, go online and then all of a sudden someone would email me some vital information which would just happen to be about the chapter that I was working on!”
I do not doubt that on occasion someone sent him information on a subject he was working on. There are two reasons other than magic that this might happen. Firstly, as he says himself, he was actively seeking information. So people knew what he wanted. So perhaps it is not too surprising that they sent it too him. Secondly, simple confirmation bias. We all remember things that confirm what we already believe. He does not state how many people failed to send him relevent information, or sent irrelevent information. It is analogous to the case where we remember a friend calling us when we are thinking abouit her but fail to remember all the occasions when she did not ring when we were thinking abouit her, or rang when we were not thinking about her.
He says that he was inspired to write the book on hearing about Coretta Scott King [Martin Luther King's wife] dying in a homeopathic hospital in Mexico. Looking into this, I discovered that the hospital was a general “alternative medicine” establishment and not specifically homeopathic. Personally, if I was a homeopath I’d be putting as much distance as possible between myself and this particular establishment.
According to this the hospital was not licensed to perform surgery, take X-rays, perform lab-work or run an internal pharmacy but was doing all of them.
According to the Washington Post the owner of the hospital, Kurt W. Donsbach is a chiropractor who is not licensed to practice medicine. Furthermore, he has been convicted of tax evasion and smuggling unapproved drugs into the US.
According to the New York Times there are serious concerns over the standard of care on offer. They give the example of George Ott who paid $12,500 for a ten day stay. Within 5 days he contracted a blood infection (he believes from a dirty needle) that damaged his heart and nearly killed him. Well, homeopaths and many chiropractors reject the germ theory of disease and since infection control is based on that theory it seems plausible that they don’t believe in that either.
Ullman goes on to say that seven Popes and eleven US Presidents have used homeopathy. He doesn’t give names in the interview (Presumably I will have to buy the book to find them – if I see it in a charity shop I will buy it.) This is typical argument from authority which even on those terms it doesn’t add up. Since homeopathy was invented there have been fifteen Popes and close to forty US Presidents. Which means that the majority did not use homeopathy. He also relates an anecdote regarding Yehudi Menhuin being a supporter of homeopathy. Now Menhuin was a great musician but why this means we should accept homeopathy because of his support is not made clear.
He then has a bit of a winge about his book not selling as well as he thought it ought. Should have been a best seller, he says. Mclean claims there is media censorship of homeopathy. Aye right. Only if “the media” does not include the Times, Telegraph and Daily Mail who regularly feature homeopath puff-pieces.
She also has a moan about propose EU regulation that woul allow only people who hve state registered qualifications to practise. You have only to look at the career of Kurt Donsbach to see why state registration of medical practitioners is essential.
They both moan about ‘attacks’ on homeopathy. By this I presume they mean people such as yours truly, gimpy, Andy Lewis and Ben Goldacre pointing out that the evidence is that homeopathy does not work beyond placebo. Ridiculous claims, such as those by Jeremy Sherr, that homeopathy can cure AIDS, have also been highlighted. Any discussion of the evidence supporting homeopaths’ claims is always interpreted as an attack, for some reason. Ullman also claims that ‘spooks’ are creating bogus complaints to getting inverstigations going. Paranoia reigns.
We have an example of Ullman arbitrarily changing the meaning of a word to create a definition that he thinks supports his case:
“…I strongly believe that homeopathy represents the very modern if not futuristic medical paradigm because to me it is a form of nano-pharmacology. I like that word because nano is the only word in our language which means both very very small and very powerful. I encourage my colleagues to use it too and use the word nanodoses. Part of its definition means one
billionth but its real origins come from the word which simply means very small and so I don’t think of it as simply a billionth. It is very small and very powerful.”
Nano means billionth. It does not mean powerful, Ullman thinking otherwise does not make it so. Furthermore, homeopathic medicines are not nanodoses, they are not one part in a billion, they are one part in 10^60.
Homeopaths often witter on about their sugar pills ‘boosting the immune system’. Ullman appears to have caught on to the fact that sometimes the last thing that the immune system needs is boosting:-
“…homeopathic medicines can and will augment immune response when necessary and they will tonify it when it’s overactive… “
So now the nostrums which we have always been told will ‘boost’ the immune system now know when it does not need a boost and will “tonify” it instead. Perhaps his book explains how this happens. Perhaps the peer-reviewed papers demonstrating this effect will soon be published. Perhaps DUllman is talking out of his arse.
They then get onto slagging off Shang because his meta-analysis showed that homeopathy does not work, and accuse him of fraudulent research:-
“…He ignored comprehensive analysis entirely. I think he knew exactly what it was but he didn’t want to report on it, as it was too positive. Instead he only reported on trials with very large numbers of subjects because when you do
that, most of those studies use one remedy for everybody without any degree of individuality.”
Actually Shang did not include trials with small numbers because it is too easy for seemingly good results to come about by chance when small numbers are involved. As for individualising remedies, earlier in the interview, Ullman speaks favourably of pharmacists like Boots selling homeopathic remedies. Since these are mass produced and the sales assistants do not take your case history they are certainly not individualised remedies – so they are open to being tested like any other mass produced remedy.
There is also a complaint about research into oscillococcinum for flu being ignored. If this is a reference to the trial at Grenoble University Hospital in 1989 then it is likely because of methodological weaknesses such as self-reporting by patients ie they joined the trial but then went home instead of remaining at the hospital. They then reported back a week later with their daily rectal temperatures and their experience of flu symptoms.
Ullman goes on to refer to a “…new journal article in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology which is ranked as one of the top international journals of reviews of research, has accepted the new studies.” The implication of this is that the Journal of Clinical; Epidmiology has accepted an article that proves that homeopathy works. A quick bit of googling found this whose abstract includes:-
The meta-analysis results change sensitively to the chosen threshold defining large sample sizes. Because of the high heterogeneity between the trials, Shang’s results and conclusions are less definite than had been presented.”
This merely says that Shang’s analysis is not as conclusive as he said. It is a long way from saying that he is actually wrong.
He refers to some research administering homeopathy to plants. Having not seen the research itself I cannot comment on it. Though I do wonder how they took the plants’ case histories in order to individualise their medication. This lack of consistancy does not bother Ullman of course and he goes on to speculate that homeopathy can be used to alleviate ecological disasters.
Both Mclean and Ullman clearly believe they can cure anything:
“Dana:…treating people with very serious chronic illness and life-saving [I assume he means life-threatening here JQH] conditions that would normally kill people and having such good results with homeopathy.
Louise: Absolutely and when you see a child’s high fever go down within minutes or a haemorrhage stop practically instantly after the right remedy, you have to see it to believe it. In acutes, that’s when you really see the magic happen.
Funny how homeopaths never produce the details of these people allegedly saved by homeopathy. They prefer to home in on “acutes” aka short term illnesses ie those that can get better on their own. I have never seen Mclean’s dramatic account of a haemorrhage stopping instantly or a high fever dropping within minutes anywhere else. I would have thought homeopaths would be trumpetting these from the rooftops.
Ullman talks about the possibility of hiring a public relations person with the brief of using the media to make homeopathy a household word. Seems like something a dodgy politician might do in order to persuade the public to swallow an ill-thought out policy. When you are relying on spin rather than evidence, you are in deep trouble.